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Glacier-bed characteristics that are poorly known and modeled are important in projected sea-level rise from ice-sheet changes under strong warming, especially in the Thwaites Glacier drainage of West Antarctica. Ocean warming may induce ice-shelf thinning or loss, or thinning of ice in estuarine zones, reducing backstress on grounded ice. Models indicate that, in response, more-nearly-plastic beds favor faster ice loss by causing larger flow acceleration, but more-nearly-viscous beds favor localized near-coastal thinning that could speed grounding-zone retreat into interior basins where marine-ice-sheet instability or cliff instability could develop and cause very rapid ice loss. Interpretation of available data indicates that the bed is spatially mosaicked, with both viscous and plastic regions. Flow against bedrock topography removes plastic lubricating tills, exposing bedrock that is eroded on up-glacier sides of obstacles to form moats with exposed bedrock tails extending downglacier adjacent to lee-side soft-till bedforms. Flow against topography also generates high-ice-pressure zones that prevent inflow of lubricating water over distances that scale with the obstacle size. Extending existing observations to sufficiently large regions, and developing models assimilating such data at the appropriate scale, present large, important research challenges that must be met to reliably project future forced sea-level rise.
Ice streams are warmed by shear strain, both vertical shear near the bed and lateral shear at the margins. Warm ice deforms more easily, establishing a positive feedback loop in an ice stream where fast flow leads to warm ice and then to even faster flow. Here, we use radar attenuation measurements to show that the Siple Coast ice streams are colder than previously thought, which we hypothesize is due to along-flow advection of cold ice from upstream. We interpret the attenuation results within the context of previous ice-temperature measurements from nearby sites where hot-water boreholes were drilled. These in-situ temperatures are notably colder than model predictions, both in the ice streams and in an ice-stream shear margin. We then model ice temperature using a 1.5-dimensional numerical model which includes a parameterization for along-flow advection. Compared to analytical solutions, we find depth-averaged temperatures that are colder by 0.7°C in the Bindschadler Ice Stream, 2.7°C in the Kamb Ice Stream and 6.2–8.2°C in the Dragon Shear Margin of Whillans Ice Stream, closer to the borehole measurements at all locations. Modelled cooling corresponds to shear-margin thermal strengthening by 3–3.5 times compared to the warm-ice case, which must be compensated by some other weakening mechanism such as material damage or ice-crystal fabric anisotropy.
Hercules Dome, Antarctica, has long been identified as a prospective deep ice core site due to the undisturbed internal layering, climatic setting and potential to obtain proxy records from the Last Interglacial (LIG) period when the West Antarctic ice sheet may have collapsed. We performed a geophysical survey using multiple ice-penetrating radar systems to identify potential locations for a deep ice core at Hercules Dome. The surface topography, as revealed with recent satellite observations, is more complex than previously recognized. The most prominent dome, which we term ‘West Dome’, is the most promising region for a deep ice core for the following reasons: (1) bed-conformal radar reflections indicate minimal layer disturbance and extend to within tens of meters of the ice bottom; (2) the bed is likely frozen, as evidenced by both the shape of the measured vertical ice velocity profiles beneath the divide and modeled ice temperature using three remotely sensed estimates of geothermal flux and (3) models of layer thinning have 132 ka old ice at 45–90 m above the bed with an annual layer thickness of ~1 mm, satisfying the resolution and preservation needed for detailed analysis of the LIG period.
Ice-sheet mass-balance estimates derived from repeat satellite-altimetry observations require accurate calculation of spatiotemporal variability in firn-air content (FAC). However, firn-compaction models remain a large source of uncertainty within mass-balance estimates. In this study, we investigate one process that is neglected in FAC estimates derived from firn-compaction models: enhanced layer thinning due to horizontal divergence. We incorporate a layer-thinning scheme into the Community Firn Model. At every time step, firn layers first densify according to a firn-compaction model and then thin further due to an imposed horizontal divergence rate without additional density changes. We find that horizontal divergence on Thwaites (THW) and Pine Island Glaciers can reduce local FAC by up to 41% and 18%, respectively. We also assess the impact of temporal variability of horizontal divergence on FAC. We find a 15% decrease in FAC between 2007 and 2016 due to horizontal divergence at a location that is characteristic of lower THW. This decrease accounts for 16% of the observed surface lowering, whereas climate variability alone causes negligible changes in FAC at this location. Omitting transient horizontal divergence in estimates of FAC leads to an overestimation of ice loss via satellite-altimetry methods in regions of dynamic ice flow.
All radar power interpretations require a correction for attenuative losses. Moreover, radar attenuation is a proxy for ice-column properties, such as temperature and chemistry. Prior studies use either paired thermodynamic and conductivity models or the radar data themselves to calculate attenuation, but there is no standard method to do so; and, before now, there has been no robust methodological comparison. Here, we develop a framework meant to guide the implementation of empirical attenuation methods based on survey design and regional glaciological conditions. We divide the methods into the three main groups: (1) those that infer attenuation from a single reflector across many traces; (2) those that infer attenuation from multiple reflectors within one trace; and (3) those that infer attenuation by contrasting the measured power from primary and secondary reflections. To assess our framework, we introduce a new ground-based radar survey from South Pole Lake, comparing selected empirical methods to the expected attenuation from a temperature- and chemistry-dependent Arrhenius model. Based on the small surveyed area, lack of a sufficient calibration surface and low reflector relief, the attenuation methods that use multiple reflectors are most suitable at South Pole Lake.
Despite widespread use of radio-echo sounding (RES) in glaciology and broad distribution of processed radar products, the glaciological community has no standard software for processing impulse RES data. Dependable, fast and collection-system/platform-independent processing flows could facilitate comparison between datasets and allow full utilization of large impulse RES data archives and new data. Here, we present ImpDAR, an open-source, cross-platform, impulse radar processor and interpreter, written primarily in Python. The utility of this software lies in its collection of established tools into a single, open-source framework. ImpDAR aims to provide a versatile standard that is accessible to radar-processing novices and useful to specialists. It can read data from common commercial ground-penetrating radars (GPRs) and some custom-built RES systems. It performs all the standard processing steps, including bandpass and horizontal filtering, time correction for antenna spacing, geolocation and migration. After processing data, ImpDAR's interpreter includes several plotting functions, digitization of reflecting horizons, calculation of reflector strength and export of interpreted layers. We demonstrate these capabilities on two datasets: deep (~3000 m depth) data collected with a custom (3 MHz) system in northeast Greenland and shallow (<100 m depth, 500 MHz) data collected with a commercial GPR on South Cascade Glacier in Washington.
Radar sounding is a powerful geophysical approach for characterizing the subsurface conditions of terrestrial and planetary ice masses at local to global scales. As a result, a wide array of orbital, airborne, ground-based, and in situ instruments, platforms and data analysis approaches for radioglaciology have been developed, applied or proposed. Terrestrially, airborne radar sounding has been used in glaciology to observe ice thickness, basal topography and englacial layers for five decades. More recently, radar sounding data have also been exploited to estimate the extent and configuration of subglacial water, the geometry of subglacial bedforms and the subglacial and englacial thermal states of ice sheets. Planetary radar sounders have observed, or are planned to observe, the subsurfaces and near-surfaces of Mars, Earth's Moon, comets and the icy moons of Jupiter. In this review paper, and the thematic issue of the Annals of Glaciology on ‘Five decades of radioglaciology’ to which it belongs, we present recent advances in the fields of radar systems, missions, signal processing, data analysis, modeling and scientific interpretation. Our review presents progress in these fields since the last radio-glaciological Annals of Glaciology issue of 2014, the context of their history and future prospects.
We describe elongate, wet, subglacial bedforms in the shear margins of the NE Greenland Ice Stream and place some constraints on their formation. Lateral shear margin moraines have been observed across the previously glaciated landscape, but little is known about the ice-flow conditions necessary to form these bedforms. Here we describe in situ sediment bedforms under the NE Greenland Ice Stream shear margins that are observed in active-source seismic and ground-penetrating radar surveys. We find bedforms in the shear margins that are ~500 m wide, ~50 m tall, and elongated nearly parallel to ice-flow, including what we believe to be the first subglacial observation of a shear margin moraine. Acoustic impedance analysis of the bedforms shows that they are composed of unconsolidated, deformable, water-saturated till. We use these geophysical observations to place constraints on the possible formation mechanism of these subglacial features.
Climate variability can complicate efforts to interpret any long-term glacier mass-balance trends due to anthropogenic warming. Here we examine the impact of climate variability on the seasonal mass-balance records of 14 glaciers throughout Norway, Sweden and Svalbard using dynamical adjustment, a statistical method that removes orthogonal patterns of variability shared between each mass-balance record and sea-level pressure or sea-surface temperature predictor fields. For each glacier, the two leading predictor patterns explain 27–81% of the winter mass-balance variability and 24–69% of the summer mass-balance variability. The spatial and temporal structure of these patterns indicates that accumulation variability for all of the glaciers is strongly related to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) also modulating accumulation variability for the northernmost glaciers. Given this result, predicting glacier change in the region may depend on NAO and AMO predictability. In the raw mass-balance records, the glaciers throughout southern Norway have significantly negative summer trends, whereas the glaciers located closer to the Arctic have negative winter trends. Removing the effects of climate variability suggests it can bias trends in mass-balance records that span a few decades, but its effects on most of the longer-term mass-balance trends are minimal.
We used a terrestrial radar interferometer (TRI) at Helheim Glacier, Greenland, in August 2013, to study the effects of tidal forcing on the terminal zone of this tidewater glacier. During our study period, the glacier velocity was up to 25 m d–1. Our measurements show that the glacier moves out of phase with the semi-diurnal tides and the densely packed melange in the fjord. Here detrended glacier displacement lags behind the forecasted tidal height by ∼8 hours. The transition in phase lag between the glacier and the melange happens within a narrow (∼500 m) zone in the fjord in front of the ice cliff. The TRI data also suggest that the impact of tidal forcing decreases rapidly up-glacier of the terminus. A flowline model suggests this pattern of velocity perturbation is consistent with weak ice flowing over a weakly nonlinear bed.
The geometry of ice-sheet internal layers is frequently interpreted as an indicator of present and past ice-sheet flow dynamics. One of the primary goals of radio-echo sounding is to accurately reproduce that layer geometry. Internal layers show a loss in reflection amplitude as a function of increasing dip angle. We posit that this energy loss occurs via several mechanisms: destructive interference in trace stacking, energy dispersion through synthetic aperture radar (SAR) processing and off-nadir ray path losses. Adjacent traces collected over a dipping horizon contain reflection arrivals which are not in phase. Stacking these traces results in destructive interference. When the phase shift between adjacent traces exceeds one-half wavelength, SAR processing, which otherwise coherently combines data from dipping reflectors, disperses the energy, reducing image quality further. Along with amplitude loss from destructive stacking and SAR dispersion, imaging reflectors from off-nadir angles results in additional travel time and thus additional englacial attenuation relative to horizontal reflectors at similar depths. When selecting radar frequency, spatial sample rate and stacking interval for a given survey, the geometry of the imaging target must be considered. Based on our analysis, we make survey design recommendations for these parameters.
The transition from limited-slip conditions at the base of grounded ice to free-slip conditions beneath floating ice occurs across the few-kilometers-wide grounding zone. This region involves either an elastic flexural transition from bedrock to hydrostatically supported elevations (often tidally influenced), a transition from thicker to thinner ice over a flat bed, or some combination of these two processes. In either case, ice must flow across a changing stress field, often resulting in brittle deformation, manifested as basal crevassing. Thus the position and morphology of basal crevasses reveal important information about the stress state across this transition. Our gridded ground-based radar surveys on Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica, indicate a complex pattern of basal crevasses, but most are associated with regions where the surface elevation gradient is steepest. Due to the high reflectivity of sea water, we image many off-nadir crevasses from a corner-reflector geometry involving reflections from the ice/sea-water interface and then from the crevasse, producing echoes with an inverted phase that could be misinterpreted as subglacial returns. Our results indicate that basal crevasses offer a rich dataset for diagnosing stress state and salient processes across grounding zones, and that special care is needed when interpreting subglacial returns in radar data.
We analyze the internal stratigraphy in radio-echo sounding data of the northeast Greenland ice stream to infer past and present ice dynamics. In the upper reaches of the ice stream, we propose that shear-margin steady-state folds in internal reflecting horizons (IRHs) form due to the influence of ice flow over spatially varying basal lubrication. IRHs are generally lower in the ice stream than outside, likely because of greater basal melting in the ice stream from enhanced geothermal flux and heat of sliding. Strain-rate modeling of IRHs deposited during the Holocene indicates no recent major changes in ice-stream vigor or extent in this region. Downstream of our survey, IRHs are disrupted as the ice flows into a prominent overdeepening. When combined with additional data from other studies, these data suggest that upstream portions of the ice stream are controlled by variations in basal lubrication whereas downstream portions are confined by basal topography.
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